David Axelrod – Heavy Axe – Craft Recordings

by | Apr 18, 2023 | Jazz CD Reviews, SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

Craft Recordings/Jazz Dispensary releases an updated vinyl of a classic 70’s fusion album.

David Axelrod – Heavy Axe – Fantasy Records F9456 (1974)/Craft Recordings CR 00521 Jazz Dispensary Top Shelf Series 180-gram stereo vinyl, 34:27 ****1/2:

(David Axelrod – arrangements, conducting; Julian “Cannonball” Adderley – alto saxophone; Gene Ammons – tenor saxophone; George Duke – keyboards; Oscar Brashear – trumpet; Rudy Copeland – synthesizer; William Green – saxophones, flute; Johnny “Guitar” Watson – guitars; and many others)

As the 1960’s and 1970’s unfolded, the American jazz scene was in flux. Newer and veteran players were breaking from the existing structures and genres. They were searching for cultural relevance. Funk, rock and soul were gaining popularity, and the jazz fusion movement spearheaded by Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock moved jazz forward. Craft Recordings in conjunction with Jazz Dispensary has kept the vitality of this musical journey alive and kicking. Some of these releases are highly polished compilations with layered sound mixes, featuring jazz, soul and rock performers. Others are solo artists making a statement. As part of the Top Shelf Series, Craft Recordings has released a 180-gram vinyl of David Axelrod’s 1974 album, Heavy Axe. Axelrod’s career as a producer, arranger and recording artist is quintessential 70’s. For this album, he is joined by greats like Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons, George Duke, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and many others.

Side 1 opens with the gospel-infused celebration, “Get Up Off your Knees’”. Anchored by funky electric piano (George Duke) and a horn chorus (especially a raucous saxophone), the jam is relentless and energetic Cannonball Adderley wails on alto saxophone.. In a change of pace, Vince Guaraldi’s “Cast Your Fate to The Wind” features a first verse lead flute (William Green) and ends in a chorus of voices and horn/reed punctuation. This cover is more laid back than most, and the electric piano combines well with the other instruments and voices. A certain surprise is the r & b-inspired version of Carly Simon’s catchy pop tune, “You’re So Vain”. The lead vocal by Stephanie. Spruill is deeply soulful and Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s hook-filled Memphis riffs add to the stylistic interpretation. Utilizing strings, “My Family” delivers a moody atmosphere in a  New Orleans-style dirge. As the song progresses, the dramatic accents intensify. At the 2:33 mark, the trademark slow groove kicks in and veteran trombonist Oscar Brashear executes a deft, lyrical solo. Another icon, Gene Ammons contributes bluesy, muscular shading on tenor saxophone.

Side 2 kicks off with a pulsating multi-layered arrangement (“Mucho Chupar”). Synthesizers and percussion maintain a steady tempo and Olga James’ emotional vocalese is framed by other singers. There are explosive moments where rock-like aesthetics are used. With breezy Latin countenance, “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing” is a faithful cover. The horns are visceral and the strings offer a smoother counterpoint. Watson’s nimble electric guitar in combination with the other instruments creates a fusion wall of sound. The musicians follow the original melody meticulously. Perhaps the most funk-filled number is “It Ain’t For You”. There is a thick bass line, hard-charging drums and percussion. Again, Watson’s hook-fueled, jagged guitar ( with the deep horn section) elevates the playing. Recapturing the slow funk cadence and expanded instrumental gravitas, “Everything Counts” is an appropriate finale. Like all of the tracks, it epitomizes the skilled, lush arrangements of Axelrod. 

Heavy Axe is another great addition to the Jazz Dispensary series. The sound mix (Kevin Gray/Cohearant Audio) is vibrant with excellent stereo separation. The various instrumental sound layers are full, but not dense. This pressing (RTI) is superior with no hisses or pops.  

—Robbie Gerson

David Axelrod – Heavy Axe


Side 1: Get Up Off Your Knees; Cast Your Fate To The Wind; You’re So Vain; My Family

Side 2: Mucho Chupar; Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing; It Ain’t For You; Everything Counts. 

More information through Craft Recordings

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Album Cover for David Axelrod - Heavy Axe


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